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Telesat Selects SpaceX to Launch its Lightspeed Satellites

Stu G
Stu G Space

Canadian satellite communications company Telesat recently selected Elon Musk's SpaceX company to launch its Lightspeed Satellites, bypassing two other rival companies of SpaceX, Relativity and Blue Origin. The company has booked a total of 14 SpaceX launches to send 198 Lightspeed Satellites on each rocket into Earth's orbit, stating that it was the most reliable and only reusable orbital rocket in the world currently in operation.  

When will the Telesat Lightspeed Satellites be launched?

Telesat's 198 Lightspeed Satellites will likely be launched by SpaceX into low-Earth orbit in early 2026 over a series of 14 launches. The Canadian satellite communication company's satellites will be deployed for Telesat's Lightspeed network, and it will provide broadband connectivity for telecom operators, governments, and businesses. 

The company was formed in 1969, and for many years, it has been known to operate sizable communications satellites in geostationary orbit. However, in 2026, Telesat announced that it had plans to deploy a series of satellites that would be sent into low-Earth orbit, and they would be capable of beaming super-fast internet around the world with extremely low latency. 

The company's project has been hit with many unforeseen setbacks and delays, which led them to search for a different satellite manufacturer. In early 2023, they went from having them developed by Thales Alenia Space – a European-based company, to MDA (MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates) – a Canadian-based company. 

On Monday, September 4th, 2023, the company announced that it had decided to go with SpaceX as the company that will launch its Lighting Satellites into space from launch sites located in California and Florida. There will be 14 Falcon 9 rockets, and each mission will be able to take up to 18 Lightspeed Satellites. 

How long until Telesat's high-speed network be operational?

The company had previously said it had chosen Relativity Space and Blue Origin to launch its satellites but decided to go with SpaceX instead. In order for the global service to be fully realised and operational, 156 spacecraft are required to be in low-Earth orbit, and if the missions go according to plan, it will be able to begin providing high-speed internet services globally in 2027. 

SpaceX has now had more than 230 back-to-back successful missions, and its rockets are regarded as the best in the world. Telesat will be looking to take advantage of SpaceX's capabilities to deploy its Lightspeed satellites in rapid succession, and they will be flown in various mid-inclination and polar orbits, approximately 1,000 km (or 600 miles) in low-Earth orbit. 

How heavy are the satellites?

Each satellite will weigh somewhere in the region of 750 kg (1,600 pounds) at the time of launching, which equates to around the same weight of the Starlink Internet satellites that SpaceX owns. The company has also launched internet satellites for several of its competitors. In 2023 alone, EchoStar, Viasat, and OneWeb have all used SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets to deploy their satellites. 

However, Telesat's Lightspeed internet network will not be targeting the same market as SpaceX's Starlink network. Lightspeed will be geared more towards enterprise customers, including mobile telco operators. Their network will also be aimed at providing a reliable internet network for military forces, medical services, schools, and other government customers. 

What is Project Kuiper, and why is there a lawsuit?

One of Starlink's biggest competitors in the consumer internet market is Amazon's Project Kuiper network, which is expected to launch a series of test satellites in late 2023. Jeff Bezos' company will aim to launch over 3,000 satellites and opted for every available Western rocket besides SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets. 

Amazon has booked 77 launches with Europe's Ariane 6, Blue Origin's New Glenn, and United Launch Alliance's Vulcan and Atlas V rockets. However, apart from the Atlas V, none of these other rockets have ever actually flown. The first series of Kuiper satellites will be taken up by a total of nine Atlas V rockets. 

It recently came to light that a certain number of pension fund shareholders with Amazon stock have filed a lawsuit against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the company's board of directors. They are suing them for breaching their fiduciary duty. It alleges that when they purchased the launches for Project Kuiper, the company hadn't even considered using the Flacon 9 rockets owned by SpaceX. 

SpaceX, they allege, would have been the only sensible choice that would have ensured Amazon's Project Kuiper could have launched at least half of its satellites before the 2026 deadline, but instead, they chose other launch companies and missed the deadline. The lawsuit also points out that going with the Flacon 9 rockets would have been the much cheaper option and that the company purposely chose not to consider SpaceX because of the well-documented rivalry between the two owners of the company – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. 

Will Telesat still use Blue Origin or any other satellite launch company?

It is still looking likely that Telesat will use Blue Origin to launch an unspecified number of missions using the company's New Glenn rocket. Although the first launches were initially penned for 2021, it will still go ahead, but it will probably not happen before 2025. The Canadian company will keep its launch options open. It may also use Relativity's Terran 1 rocket at some point in the future, as the company feels it is important to have optionality in its launch services.